Top critical review
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Depends what you're looking for...
on 25 October 2010
If you want to access a fascinating area of history with not much previous knowledge of the topic, then this is the book for you. It is well written and engaging, and overall provides an excellent narrative of the period c. 980-1066.
HOWEVER, if you are looking for a bit more serious historical research then this can only be a starting point for these reasons;
1. The focus on Emma is lost until the final 3 or 4 chapters. Up until then, she plays a mostly supporting role. As such, this reads more like a general history of the period. If that's what you're looking for then there are better alternatives (Rex, Barlow etc. on Edward the Confessor).
2. The title suggests that Emma 'shaped' the events of 1066. This is utter rubbish, and is a massive exaggeration of her role. This tenuous link is really only explained in the final pages of the book, the reason being that she is William the Conqueror's aunt. This is used to incorrectly demonstrate that his claim exceeded any other solely by virtue of this blood relation. Unfortunately this is a massively understated argument in the text, and is therefore surprising to find it as the subtitle. Unquestionably she influenced the environment of pre-Norman England, but she certainly did not pave the way for a Norman invasion as is suggested by O'Brien.
As a historical text, therefore, it is inadequately focused on Emma herself and frequently digresses into rather vague and unnecessary journalistic narrative. It would be much improved by delving more deeply into the contemporary sources of the period.
As a starting point, it's excellent, but not as an in-depth account.